There is a saying about the Liturgy: “Say the black and do the red,” as written in the missal. Recently the Adoremus Society, which publishes the Adoremus Bulletin, sent out a survey asking for responses about the way the Liturgy is celebrated in parishes around the country, especially after the changes made in 2011. The questions were designed to collect information on how well our brethren are saying the black and doing the red, and whether it is being said and done with reverence. It is a worthy project, and I await the results. One should hope that both compliance and reverence are better than in the past.
However, as I finished answering the questions I could not escape the thought that the real source of liturgical abuse and lack of reverence is a deficient understanding of what it means to worship God, and a lack of attention to nurturing an interior disposition directed to worship. So much of the liturgical abuse that we endured after the Second Vatican Council was the result of corrupting the Liturgy into a mere social gathering with a religious theme. The focus drifted from God. Worship was diminished or even deleted. Moreover, having grown up in the pre-conciliar Church with its too often rushed Masses and frequently pervasive emphasis on form over substance it would be inaccurate for me not to note that the understanding of worship was not always as good then as many now remember it to be. But whether pre- or post-council, a correct notion of worship is always a true antidote to liturgical abuse.
First, worship is surrender. It is the conforming of our interior — our minds and hearts –to the divine, which is the joining of our surrender to God with the eternal surrender of Jesus to the Father, the ultimate act of the Incarnation. Our exterior acts of worship in the Liturgy flow out of this process of interior surrender and worship, and if the interior is corrupt, so will be the exterior, no matter how smooth the words and the actions! The former is the story of Mary and the poor widow praying at the back of the synagogue. The latter is the stuff of hypocrites and narcissists — and liturgical abuses.
In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy Pope Benedict XVI asks: “What is worship? What happens when we worship?” He answers by saying that God created the earth to provide a place for man to meet God, and in the Incarnation God himself entered into creation for that meeting. Worship is the recognition of man of God’s entry into time and history, and man’s submission of his body and soul to Jesus.
This submission of body and soul in worship also involves sacrifice, as does all worship, says the pope. “In all religions sacrifice is at the heart of worship.” But for Christians it is sacrifice with an important clarification. Christian sacrifice is transforming. Not just oblation, but transformation. He recalls Augustine’s teaching that in the New Covenant true sacrifice is not mere destruction of something valuable as for example in animal sacrifice in ancient Israel. Rather it is “love-transformed mankind, the divinization of creation and the surrender of all things to God.”
This divinization and redemption of all creation is at the core of the Christian faith, and at the heart of the Holy Eucharist. The risen Lord, beginning with his divinization of the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, transfigures all creation, drawing it though himself to the Father. The bread and wine transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is the reconciliation of the fullness of creation to God. As Romano Guardini says, Jesus’ “resurrected flesh and blood, his whole, transformed humanity is redemption!”
This is not to say that worship of God is limited only to our participation in the Sacred Liturgy. St. Paul tells us how we are to worship in our daily lives. “Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3:16” We go about our lives “always carrying about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor. 10-11”
What St. Paul describes here is the Christian life, and that is the point. The Christian life is worship. But what St. Paul also teaches is that our participation in the Sacred Liturgy is not isolated from the remainder of our lives. The more that we are “carrying about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” the more that we are able to properly and deeply enter into the Mass. Daily Christian life is both worship itself and preparation for participation in the Sacred Liturgy. And it is in worship at Mass that we encounter the Lord Jesus in the Holy Trinity in the most intense manner permitted any human being who is still living in time and history.
In genuine worship in the Sacred Liturgy we present ourselves in a state of surrender of our whole being to the Omnipotent. But the relationship flows both ways. The Omnipotent Creator of the cosmos becomes personal to each of us. Infinity becomes incarnate. We are, because of our baptism, adopted children of the Father, and in receiving the Body and Blood of the risen Jesus in his transfigured reality we are, as Guardini also says, given the remedy of immortality that it is not only spiritual but also corporal. We are “caught up into the abundance of pure corporal and spiritual life in God.”
Even though presently bound by our untransformed bodies in time and history, Jesus, as a foretaste, takes us by the hand and reveals to us the Divine Trinitarian community, the ultimate destination of a “love-transformed mankind.” Blessed John Paul II expresses this truth in these beautiful words: “The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey.”
So this is the question: In view of this great mystery to which we are given access do we bother to properly prepare ourselves to come to Holy Mass with an interior disposition to dwell in the liturgy with the triune God? Pope Benedict says that the Eucharist integrates the past, present, and future into one reality that touches eternity in the abundance of the risen Lord. But how many of us come to Mass prepared to participate in the touching of eternity and the abundance of the risen Lord? Or do we stand before this glorious gift like distracted pigs before pearls? It would be time well spent for every bishop and priest to take to the pulpit to instruct the souls in their charge about the Sacred Liturgy and the Holy Eucharist, and about true worship — again and again, and then again! Indeed it would be a great act not just of catechesis, but of profound charity!